As China Plans Drills Circling Taiwan, U.S. Officials Fear a Squeeze Play | Big Indy News
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As China Plans Drills Circling Taiwan, U.S. Officials Fear a Squeeze Play



WASHINGTON — For years the deliberate “strategic ambiguity” in Washington’s China policy has left unclear how the United States would respond to a full-scale, amphibious invasion of Taiwan.

But an equally hard question — maybe harder, in the minds of many senior White House and defense officials — is how to respond to a slow squeeze of the island, in which Chinese forces cut off much of the access to it, physically or digitally.

That question may soon be tested for the first time in a quarter of a century. China’s declaration during Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit that it would begin live-fire military exercises in six locations encircling the island could set up the largest crisis in the Taiwan Strait since 1996, when President Bill Clinton ordered American aircraft carriers to the area.

But those exercises were significantly farther from Taiwan’s shores than the series the Chinese government has warned mariners and aircraft that it plans. And it took place in a far more benign strategic environment, back when China’s entry into the global economy was supposed to modify its behavior, and when Mr. Clinton would tell Chinese students that the spread of the internet would foster freedom and dissent. It was also when China’s military packed a fraction of the punch it now boasts, including anti-ship missiles developed to deter American warships from getting close.

Administration officials say that based on their assessments a full cutoff of access to Taiwan is unlikely — in large part because it would hurt China’s own economy at a time of severe economic slowdown. On Friday, the Group of 7 industrialized nations, the core of the Western alliance, warned China not to retaliate for Ms. Pelosi’s visit, clearly an effort to suggest that China would be widely condemned for overreacting, much as Russia was for its invasion of Ukraine.

But American officials say they worry that the events of the next few days could trigger an unintended confrontation between China’s forces and Taiwan’s, especially if the Chinese military launches a missile over the island, or if an incursion into disputed airspace leads to a midair conflict. Something similar happened 20 years ago, when a Chinese military aircraft collided with an American intelligence-gathering plane.

As the military exercises began early Wednesday, White House and Pentagon officials were monitoring the situation closely, trying to figure out if China was sending forces into each of the areas near Taiwan’s coast it has declared closed. But their assessment was that China’s strategy is to intimidate and coerce, without triggering a direct conflict.

Outside experts were more concerned that the exercise could escalate.

“This is one of the scenarios that is difficult to deal with,’’ said Bonny Lin, who directed the Taiwan desk at the Pentagon and held other defense positions before moving to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, where she heads the China Power Project. “If a military exercise transitions to a blockade, when does it become clear that the exercise is now a blockade? Who should be the first to respond? Taiwan’s forces? The United States? It’s not clear.”

An exercise-turned-blockade is one of many scenarios that get “war-gamed” in Washington regularly, as American officials try to map out options before a crisis strikes. But nothing really replicates a real-life confrontation.

Mr. Biden, aides say, would have to try to walk the delicate line between avoiding folding to the Chinese and avoiding escalation.

It is even more complicated by the continuing debate over how to help Taiwan become a “porcupine,’’ or a country too well defended for China to invade. For all the talk of F-16 sales to Taiwan — its fleet is supposed to top 200 of the fighter aircraft by 2026 — there is growing worry that Taiwan is buying the wrong kind of gear to defend itself, and that it needs to learn some lessons from Ukraine.

It is hardly a new debate. Two years ago, a senior defense official, David F. Helvey, warned that as China’s ability to choke off the island rises, Taiwan itself can, “through smart investment, send a clear signal to Beijing that Taiwan’s society and its armed forces are committed to the defense of Taiwan.” But he warned that the sums that Taiwan’s government was committing to acquiring new defensive technology were insufficient for a resilient defense.

The result has been a steady drumbeat from Washington urging Taiwan’s leadership to invest less in expensive F-16 fighters and more on what Mr. Helvey called “large numbers of small things,’’ the formula that later helped Ukraine resist Russian forces.

That list includes mobile cruise missiles for coastal defense, naval mines, small fast-attack craft and mobile artillery.

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan has expressed support for the so-called “asymmetric” strategy and has moved in recent years to increase the defense budget and buy many of the small, mobile weapons that U.S. officials have recommended, like Harpoon missiles. But she has encountered resistance at times from some Taiwanese military officials, who argue that some conventional weapons systems are still necessary to prepare for different scenarios. They have also argued that without an explicit security guarantee from the United States, it would be too risky for Taiwan to give up its lethal weapons.

That view has changed somewhat in recent months as the war in Ukraine has jolted Taiwan’s military and the public, prompting a greater embrace of the “porcupine” strategy. But that war has also depleted stocks and strained production capacity among American and allied defense contractors, meaning Taiwan may need to wait for several years. And that delay gives China an opening.

Moreover, Taiwan’s defense budget hovers at around $17 billion a year, though it has committed to spend an additional $8 billion on armaments over the next several years. By comparison, Congress recently apportioned $52 billion in aid for Ukraine — which doesn’t have Taiwan’s revenue streams to pay for its own defense — and China spends on the order of $230 billion annually.

Some also say that what Taiwan needs from the United States is not just weapon sales, but other forms of support, ranging from military technology to operational exchanges and training.

While Taiwan’s military is sometimes allowed to participate in defense symposiums, it is rarely invited to join large multinational military exercises because most countries do not officially recognize it as a nation. And while Washington has gradually ramped up training of Taiwanese forces on the island and in the United States in recent years, the island’s mandatory military service and its reservist program are still seen as insufficiently rigorous.

“The U.S. could help us learn how to train more efficiently and mobilize reserve forces more quickly,” said Ou Si-fu, a research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, a think tank affiliated with Taiwan’s defense ministry. “They could also help more in terms of technology transfer, to support our indigenous weapons development programs.”

Of course, defending against invasion bears little resemblance to defending against a blockade. Executing a blockade is even harder.

“Threatening a blockade and actually initiating a blockade are two very different things,” said Eric Sayers, a former senior adviser to the U.S. Pacific Command who is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Mr. Sayers said China has long had the ability to effectively encircle Taiwan if it chose to do so, so the capability itself isn’t a surprise.

“Despite all the threats Beijing has made in recent weeks, it would still be very difficult for the P.L.A. Navy and costly to China’s economy to maintain a blockade for an extended period of time,” Mr. Sayers added, referring to the People’s Liberation Army. “What hurts Taipei’s economy has a similar effect on Beijing.”

Mr. Sayers continued, “What is most significant about China’s response is that it is giving us a preview of how the P.L.A. might deploy an indirect blockade against Taiwan in the future to ratchet up the pressure near an election or other political crisis.”

“Instead of announcing a military blockade they may instead announce an extended military exercise around Taiwan that closes or disrupts shipping routes for 30, 60, 90 days. This makes it less a military operation and more a form of legal warfare to justify an indirect blockade for a duration that Beijing can manipulate.”

Others say the United States could do more to bolster Taiwan’s security by helping it better integrate into the global economic system. Taiwanese officials and analysts argue that strengthening trade links and possibly passing a bilateral trade agreement could help the island reduce its reliance on China, currently its largest trade partner. But China would undoubtedly consider that an aggressive act.

The geopolitical risks of Taiwan’s dependence on the Chinese market were on display this week when just hours after Ms. Pelosi arrived in Taiwan, Beijing moved to suspend exports of natural sand to the island — key for construction — and banned imports from Taiwan of certain types of fruit and fish.

“Economic security is so important to Taiwan’s survival as a democracy,” said Vincent Chao, former political director at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington.

Diversifying American support for Taiwan from arms sales is crucial not only to better defend against China, but also to boost morale for a fellow democratic partner, said Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute, a defense research group in Arlington, Virginia.

“We shouldn’t just be cramming weapons down their throat and robbing them of their agency in terms of determining what their own defense requirements are,” Mr. Stokes said. “What Taiwan needs most from the U.S. is to be treated, as much as possible given the constraints, as a normal partner with respect.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

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The F.D.A. Now Says It Plainly: Morning-After Pills Are Not Abortion Pills



The F.D.A. said it made the change now because it had completed a review of a 2018 application to alter the label that was submitted by Foundation Consumer Healthcare, a company that in 2017 bought the Plan B brand from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. Agency officials said the pandemic delayed the review process and that the timing was not motivated by political considerations.

A spokeswoman for the company, Dani Hirsch, said in an interview that for its 2018 application, the company had not conducted any new studies but had submitted “what was already out there.”

In a statement, the company’s marketing director, Tara Evans, said “the misconception that Plan B works by interfering with implantation can present barriers to broader emergency contraception access. The Plan B labeling correction will help protect continued over-the-counter emergency contraception access and reduce confusion about how Plan B works and further clarify that Plan B does not affect implantation.”

Plan B One-Step and its generic versions — including brands like Take Action, My Way and Option 2 — contain levonorgestrel, one of a class of hormones called progestins that are also found at lower doses in birth control pills and intrauterine devices. The pills are most effective in preventing pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, although they can sometimes work if taken within five days.

Another type of morning-after pill, marketed as Ella and containing a compound called ulipristal acetate, is only available by prescription and is not affected by the F.D.A.’s label change. There has been less research on this type of pill, but studies suggest that it is highly unlikely to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. In 2009, after months of scrutiny, Ella was approved for sale in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy, where laws would have barred it if it had been considered to induce abortions.

According to data published in 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-quarter of women of reproductive age who have sex with men answered yes to the question: “Have you ever used emergency contraception, also known as ‘Plan B,’ ‘Preven,’ ‘Ella,’ ‘Next Choice,’ or ‘Morning after’ pills?” The agency did not break down the data by the type of pills taken.

As far back as the 1999 approval process, the maker of Plan B — Barr Pharmaceuticals, later acquired by Teva — asked the F.D.A. not to list an implantation effect on the label, The Times reported in 2012.

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Who are Caroline Ellison’s parents? Fraudster’s mom and dad are MIT economists



This apple fell far from the tree.

Caroline Ellison — who pleaded guilty to fraud charges related to her role in the FTX cryptocurrency scandal, which led to the extradition of Sam Bankman-Fried this week — is the daughter of high-profile economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

According to his curriculum vitae, Ellison’s father, Glenn Ellison, was educated at Harvard, Cambridge and MIT before becoming the Gregory K. Palm (1970) Professor of Economics at the latter. 

In addition to coaching youth softball and his daughters’ middle school math teams, he writes “Hard Math,” a series of textbooks and workbooks about teaching arithmetic to younger students.

Glenn Ellison is also an Elected Fellow of the Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory and American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Caroline Ellison’s parents, Glenn and Sara Ellison, outside their Newton, Mass., home in early December.
Robert Miller

Ellison’s mother, Sara Ellison, is also an accomplished academic. Armed with an undergraduate degree from Purdue University and a mathematical statistics diploma from Cambridge University, her profile shows she completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993. 

Sara Ellison is currently a senior lecturer in the department alongside her husband.

“We were definitely exposed to a lot of economics [growing up],” Ellison, 28, once told Forbes.

Ellison, 28, plead guilty to fraud this week.
Ellison, 28, pleaded guilty to fraud this week.
Twitter / @AlamedaResearch
Caroline Ellison's sister, Anna, now lives in the West Village.
Caroline Ellison’s sister, Anna, now lives in the West Village.

Glenn and Sara Ellison were photographed by The Post outside their home in Newton, an affluent Boston suburb, earlier this month. Armed with several bags, they told reporters they were too “busy” to comment on the FTX scandal.

The eldest of three sisters — including Anna, 25, who now lives in Manhattan’s West Village — Ellison distinguished herself as a precocious math whiz at a young age. 

When she was just 8 years old, she reportedly presented her father with a paper analyzing stuffed animal prices at Toys ‘R’ Us.

Sam Bankman-Fried leaving Manhattan Federal Court on Thursday.
Sam Bankman-Fried leaving Manhattan federal court on Thursday.
Matthew McDermott
Both Glenn and Sara Ellison are economists at MIT.
Both Glenn and Sara Ellison are economists at MIT.
Robert Miller

She went on to compete in the Math Prize for Girls while at Newton North High School before studying mathematics at Stanford University, where former professor Ruth Stackman described her to Forbes as “bright, focused, [and] very mathy.”

Ellison and Bankman-Fried, 30, crossed paths at the Wall Street trading firm Jane Street. Bankman-Fried’s parents are also both university lecturers, at Stanford in California. They became good friends and she joined Alameda Research, the hedge fund arm of the FTX crypto exchange, in 2018. She then became CEO in 2021. However, the company remained owned 90% by Bankman-Fried and 10% by another member of his circle.

In addition to documenting her supposed foray into polyamory on Tumblr, Ellison once boasted about drug use on social media.

Sara Ellison completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993.
Sara Ellison completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993.
Robert Miller

“Nothing like regular amphetamine use to make you appreciate how dumb a lot of normal, non-medicated human experience is,” she tweeted in 2021.

Ellison reportedly admitted to Alameda employees that FTX had used client funds to bail out the fledgeling hedge fund during a video call in November. She was eventually terminated as CEO by insolvency professional and current FTX CEO John J. Ray III after FTX and Alameda filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

She pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges on Monday, and has subsequently been released on $250,000 bail.

Ellison was spotted getting coffee in New York City on Dec. 4.
Ellison was spotted getting coffee in New York City on Dec. 4.
Twitter / @AutismCapital

Although she could be sent to jail for up to 110 years for her part in the FTX-Alameda scandal — which has been said by federal prosecutors to have lost between $1 billion and $2 billion of customers’ cash — she is thought to have struck a deal with the feds for a much lighter sentence in return for her cooperation.

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Iran condemns Zelensky’s remarks to Congress as ‘baseless.’



Iran has condemned President Volodymyr Zelensky’s remarks to the U.S. Congress, warning the Ukrainian leader against further accusing Tehran of supplying weapons to Russia for use in the war.

Mr. Zelensky told Congress on Wednesday that Iranian-made drones “sent to Russia in hundreds” had been threatening Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, a view shared by American and European officials. In Iran, he said, Russia had found an “ally in its genocidal policy.”

A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, Nasser Kanaani, called Mr. Zelensky’s comments “rude” and “baseless.”

“Mr. Zelensky had better know that Iran’s strategic patience over such unfounded accusations is not endless,” Mr. Kanaani said in a statement on Thursday.

Although Iran has officially denied supplying Russia with the weapons since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials have said that the first shipment was delivered in August.

Mr. Zelensky has said that drones used in Monday’s wave of predawn attacks on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities were from a batch recently delivered to Russia by Iran. The strikes came after Biden administration officials said that Russia and Iran were strengthening their military ties into a “full-fledged defense partnership.”

The European Union last week condemned Iran’s military partnership with Russia as a gross violation of international law and announced new sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities over their roles in supplying the drones that Moscow has used to attack Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure. That followed a round of sanctions on Iranians over the drone deliveries in October.

Mr. Kanaani “once again emphasizes” that Iran has not supplied military equipment for use in Ukraine, the statement issued on Thursday added, and urged Mr. Zelensky to learn “the fate of some other political leaders” who were happy with U.S. support. It was not clear which other leaders the statement was referring to.

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